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Color of Money

On Spring Break, With Their Heads in the Sand

By Michelle Singletary
Thursday, March 10, 2005; Page E03

Typically when people talk about March Madness, they're referring to the NCAA basketball tournament.

But I want to discuss another March Madness. It's the madness that must afflict the thousands of college students who take spring break trips they can't afford.

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I did a search on the Internet for spring vacation deals for college students and was floored by the places these young people are traveling to -- Jamaica, the Bahamas, Cancun, Costa Rica, Miami, Las Vegas and South Padre Island, which is off the coast of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico.

I know two-income couples with full-time jobs who haven't been to some of these vacation spots. And yet college students with little or no savings, considerable student loan debt and perhaps unpaid credit card balances are taking off for fun in the sun.

National Lampoon Tours, a division of the company famed for "Animal House" and National Lampoon's "Vacation" movies, began this year offering all-inclusive trips to Las Vegas and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. One spring break package included a four-night stay at a four-star hotel and airfare from Los Angeles to Cabo San Lucas. The cost: $860. Of course, that doesn't include spending money and maybe a roommate, but come on.

Rather than spend $860 for a four-day vacation, what could a college student do with that amount of money? Buy all his books for the year, perhaps? On average, students spent $898 for textbooks last year, according to the California Student Public Interest Research Group.

Unless all of these young people taking spring break trips are getting a free ride to college and won't have a financial worry in the world about paying for their books, fees, clothes and transportation to and from school, they ought to be vacationing at home.

Am I making too much of this March Madness?

Not when you look at the massive amount of debt that students (and their parents) are taking on to pay for a college education. Not when you look at survey after survey of the growing number of college students racking up a maddening amount of credit card debt.

Trust me when I say that young people flying or driving off to vacations they can't really afford are exhibiting behavior that will set them up for a lifetime of "I want what I want when I want it."

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